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Room with a view over the ocean.

Old 22nd Nov 2021, 05:05
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Room with a view over the ocean.


I have been guilty of a few idiotic things during my time in the RAAF in the Fifties. The following anecdote illustrates just one event. The Lincoln was indicating 160 knots at 7,000 feet on a bumpy summer day and we were en-route Townsville to Darwin. There were seven crew members including a newly graduated sergeant pilot who was the co-pilot. He needed handling experience on the heavy bomber, so I put him in the captain's seat while I walked back to the rear of the aircraft to stretch my legs. Leaving my headset in the cockpit, I squeezed past the navigator who was taking a sun shot with his sextant through the astro dome. I asked him to keep an eye on the co-pilot and that I would back in a few minutes.

The Lincoln was equipped with three electrically operated gun turrets. The rear turret could also be turned manually via two handles, and was situated at the tail of the aircraft between the two rudders. When turned, the turret would protrude into the slipstream. This caused the aircraft to yaw slightly, especially if the turret was not central for take-off. Entrance to the turret was from inside the fuselage via two small sliding doors. After entry, the gunner would close the doors and secure his lap-strap. It was a cramped and lonely position which could be bitterly cold at high altitude. In an emergency, the gunner could bale out by simply turning the turret sideways, opening the doors behind him, and fall out backwards into the sky. Hopefully he would have first remembered to clip on his parachute.

On my way to the rear of the aircraft, I paused to have a brief chat to the signaller seated behind his high frequency radio sets and a morse key. Each member of the crew were required to be proficient at sending and receiving morse code. This included flashing light signal messages with an Aldis lamp.

Clambering over the wing main spar I finally reached the rear turret, opened the sliding doors, and squeezed inside. The view from the turret was magnificent, although wartime rear gunners would have had little time to appreciate the scenery. In their isolated position they were sitting ducks for enemy fighters and they suffered high casualties.

Mornington Island, which is situated in the Gulf of Carpentaria, passed behind us. Through gaps in the clouds I could see the desolate coastline of northern Australia as we crossed the border between Queensland and the Northern Territory. There were big salt water crocodiles down there, and rumour had it that the mosquitos were even bigger than the crocs.

It was getting bumpy and the aircraft was rolling and skidding as the inexperienced co-pilot overcontrolled on the rudders. The tall fins on the stabilizer were flexing in the turbulence and I began to feel the sweating signs of air sickness. My sympathy was with any rear gunner stuck with a rough pilot, and it was definitely time to return to the cockpit before I disgraced myself.

The turret doors were still open (I had forgotten to close them earlier), and while elbowing myself backwards from the confines of the turret I thought I heard the whine of an electric motor over the deafening noise from the engines and slipstream. To my dismay the turret began to traverse, and in fright I grabbed at the machine gun breeches directly in front of me and held on grimly. Over my shoulder through the open turret doors, I could see the shark infested waters of the Gulf of Carpentaria far below.

The slipstream pulled at my flying suit through the open turret doors and I forced back that dreadful compulsion to fall over the edge that one experiences when looking down from a tall building. Up front and oblivious to the fun and games occuring at the rear of the Lincoln, the co-pilot was thoroughly enjoying himself dodging around clouds, while I hung on to the rear guns, scared witless and unable to fasten my safety belt. I couldn't bear to look down outside the aircraft.

While trying to exit from the turret, I must have inadvertently touched one of the buttons that energized the turning mechanism. Not having been trained on the turret operation, there was no way I was going to release my grip on the guns in order to rectify the situation. Without a headset, I was unable to contact the rest of the crew who remained blissfully unaware that their captain was up the proverbial creek without a paddle. The wind blast through the open door was cold and I was not a happy little vegemite.

After a lifetime, someone realized that the captain was a long time gone, and when attempts to contact me on the intercom failed, the signaller was despatched to investigate. Signallers were also qualified as gunners, and some had occasionally found themselves in a similar fix to myself during their early training.

Arriving down the back, the signaller soon twigged to my predicament, and doubling up in laughter, he happily reported to the rest of the crew that the captain was stuck in the rear turret with the doors open and his bum over the edge. Sure enough, the navigator just had to have a look and he too almost wet himself with laughter.

The new pilot (total experience 300 hours) was still gleefully horsing around the cloud tops, and finally the navigator (bless his cotton socks) decided it might be safer for all concerned if I was back in the left seat. The signaller called at me to let go with one hand and attempt to manually wind the turret back to centre. I tried not to notice the ocean far below, and bravely disengaging one cramped hand from the gun breech, eventually managed to wind the turret to a safer position.

After thanking the signaller for his help, I returned to the cockpit and turfed the co-pilot from the left seat. Having regained my lost dignity, I suggested to him that in future he should ensure that all turns should be smooth and well balanced. I added that ham-fisted flying could make the rest of the crew airsick - especially the bloke in the rear turret...
Centaurus is offline  
Old 22nd Nov 2021, 21:41
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brilliant story!
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Old 23rd Nov 2021, 02:13
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Originally Posted by jonkster View Post
brilliant story!

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Zombywoof is offline  
Old 12th Dec 2021, 13:47
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Ah, the old leg stretch. Became the norm.
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